Stained Glass from Welsh Churches

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‘Heavenly Lights’ Exhibition

I have mentioned the upcoming exhibition of the work of Margaret Rope at Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery on these pages before, and I was pleased to be able to attend the private view for the exhibition on 9 September.

View of the Margaret Rope exhibition.This innovative exhibition includes drawings, cartoons and projections of many of her windows, as well as work in glass and sculpture. The exhibition includes coloured cartoons of all three of her windows in Wales, the pair of saints at Llanarth in Monmouthshire and the memorial window to her niece and nephew at Llandovery, who both died in childhood.

This exhibition view shows the Llanarth cartoons with (just visible!) my photograph of St Bernard projected on the wall. Also at the exhibition is a cartoon of the window depicting St Winifrede at the Church of St Peter and St Paul, Newport, Shropshire, which found its way to the museum at Holywell at some stage in the past, and has been lent by the Diocese of Wrexham.

I also took the opportunity to visit Shrewsbury Cathedral, where there are seven windows by Margaret Rope. and I will post a further piece about the imagery of Winifrede on the Saints in Wales project website.

I will be back in Shrewsbury, on the 17 November, if not before, to give a talk about David Evans, another important artist with Shrewsbury connections, for the Friends of Shrewsbury Museum. The exhibition continues until 15 January 2017.

Article for Historic Churches

The story of why medieval stained glass survives in some places and not in others is an intriguing one and not always well understood. This is something that I have recently written about in an article for Historic Churches, to be published in June.

The Reformation of the mid-sixteenth century turned the tide on the use of imagery in the church and it is often thought that windows were smashed when the altars were stripped and statues of saints removed and destroyed. It is not clear how much this was actually the case, and, as Richard Marks points out in his Stained Glass in England during the Middle Ages (1993), attacks on stained glass ‘should not be overestimated’ and stained glass windows ‘were permitted to remain intact because of the expense of replacement’ (pp. 231–2).

stained glass fragments.

Fragments of stained glass in the lower panels of the east window at Dyserth, probably mainly early sixteenth century.

We do know that pictorial medieval stained glass was destroyed in Wales during the 1640s, but a great deal was probably thrown away because of its gradual decay and neglect, even as late as the mid-nineteenth century. My article then gives examples of the ways in which medieval stained glass was retained and restored in medieval churches during the nineteenth century. Sometimes fragments of medieval glass were incorporated into new compositions, and often fragments were simply leaded together as a jigsaw without any pictorial meaning. In fact, these panels strike me as essentially abstract works, made in a period before abstraction was taken up seriously in visual art.

Historic Churches is an annual magazine and has published a number of useful articles on stained glass in recent years, particularly in relation to conservation. Many of these articles are available online, including a useful article by Sarah Brown that provides useful context on the iconoclasm of the Reformation and the Civil War in England. Perusing these articles I came across an article on the nineteenth-century Welsh pioneer David Evans, something that I am sorry to have missed a coupe of years ago, as it would have deserved a reference in Stained Glass from Welsh Churches.


Medieval saints in Bangor Cathedral

Further to my last post on the David Evans east window at Bangor Cathedral, during my talk in the cathedral on Saturday I was asked about a medieval window depicting the Welsh saint Dwynwen, formerly in the cathedral, which I did not know about.

stained glass window with saints.

Clayton & Bell, St Ambrose and St Augustine, 1873, figures in the tracery lights of the east window at Bangor Cathedral

I wondered whether there might be a reference to this by the eighteenth-century antiquarian Browne Willis, and in fact a number of saints were visible in the windows of the cathedral in the early eighteenth century, according to his Survey of the Cathedral Church of Bangor and the Edifices Belonging to it (1721). He reported that ‘the glass is so broken and patched up’ that it was not possible to read many inscriptions or understand any remaining iconography. However, there were figures in the east window tracery of Ambrose and Augustine, and perhaps, if this was remembered in the 1870s, this might have been the reason behind the inclusion of the four Latin doctors of the church (and their Greek counterparts) in Clayton & Bell’s east window of 1873. The remains of these figures were perhaps removed when the east window was reglazed by David Evans in 1840. Had any of the medieval glass still been in place in the 1870s, there would have been a better chance that it might have been incorporated into the new window.

Browne Willis records three saints in the stained glass of other windows as Daniel (Deiniol), Katherine and Donwenna (Dwynwen), and records that all of these figures probably dated to either the late fifteenth century or the early sixteenth century, which accords with most of the surviving stained glass of north Wales. Further heraldic stained glass in a north window was probably of a similar date, related to the Griffiths of Penrhyn.

Browne Willis wrote about all of the four medieval cathedrals of Wales, and although I looked up his description of St Davids Cathedral when researching medieval glass for Stained Glass in Welsh Churches, unfortunately I did not look at his decriptions the other cathedrals. He mentions some remains of painted glass at St Asaph, but stated that there was none at Llandaff, even though heraldic glass at Llandaff was extant in the 1640s.

The date and arrangement of Bangor Cathedral east window

The subject of this post is the east window made by David Evans that was removed at the time of Gilbert Scott’s restoration of the cathedral. This important work by the artist is dated 1838 in the Pevsner for Gwynedd, a date which I followed when illustrating one of the panels, now in the west window of the nave, in chapter three of Stained Glass from Welsh Churches.

I am contributing to a series of talks relating to the ‘Cult of Saints in Wales’ project in Bangor this Saturday, and have been looking up some newspaper references to windows installed in the cathedral. The east window was paid for from contributions given when the vicar, Revd J.H. Cotton, was appointed Dean of Bangor, but the design for the window by David Evans was only agreed in November 1838, suggesting a completion date more likely to be 1839 than 1838, which was in fact the date given by Mostyn Lewis in his Stained Glass in North Wales up to 1850 (Altrincham, 1970). However, a report on the finished window did not appear in the North Wales Chronicle until 30 June 1840, stating that the window was completed during the previous week. This report gives a good description of the window, but only describes six figures: David and Solomon, with the four evangelists, although there are now nine figures in the three windows that contain glass from the old east window (one on the west window, and one towards the west end of the north and south aisles).

stained glass window depicting standing figure of Aaron.

David Evans, Aaron, 1843, Bangor Cathedral

In the report on the agreement of the design in November 1838, it was regretted that the amount raised did not allow for the whole five-light window to be filled with figures (as originally proposed in October 1838), and with the outer lights being filled with decorative glass, the cost was expected to be £200. It was not until 1843 that four further figures were added and the window completed, the North Wales Chronicle states, ‘through the munificence of our Bishop’. The four additional figures were two from the Old Testament, Aaron and Moses, and the saints Peter and Paul. We can therefore assume that these were placed in the outer lights, most likely with the Old Testament figures on the left.

The window was removed when the chancel was restored and George Gilbert Scott introduced a window by Clayton & Bell as the east window in 1873, which remains in place today with ten main compartments, now filled with scenes from the Life of Christ. It does not appear that the figures by David Evans were reset in their present positions until 1880, and when they were, there was only space for nine of the ten figures. Solomon, who was crowned and held a sceptre in his right hand, and a ground plan of the temple in his left, was presumably lost to the cathedral in the process.

In summary, for Aaron, 1838, read 1843!

My talk on the saints in stained glass and in sculpture in Bangor Cathedral will be on Saturday 12 September, the last of four talks relating to the ‘Cult of Saints in Wales‘ project.